NIOBIUM CONNECTOR (NIOBICON™)

Harvey Hack, James Windgassen, Keith Johanns, Megan Owens, Carrie Wheeler, Vincent Iorio, Tim Patterson, and David Knuteson Northrop Grumman Corp. Annapolis, MD

Winner of an HP Workstation

NiobiCon is a self-insulating underwater connector technology that uses transition metals, such as niobium, as electrical contacts that will not short out, corrode, or cause an electrical shock if touched while powered in harsh environments like saltwater. NiobiCon will be a disruptive technology across many industries when using electricity in harsh aqueous environments, yet it is simple, safe, reliable, and cost-effective.

Connector manufacturers make their electrical contacts from materials that will short out electronics, corrode, and cause electrical shock hazards if the electrical contacts come into direct contact with water. Manufacturers use seals or oil to prevent this direct water contact. Current underwater connectors have complex designs, are expensive, and require a manufacturing process with long timelines from order to delivery.

NiobiCon operates by forming an extraordinarily thin, self-insulating, passive film (approximately 150 nm) on its transition metal contacts. With niobium, this film will not break down until more than 100 volts are applied to the connector. Even at these voltages while immersed in sea-water, the contacts can be touched with bare hands without receiving a shock while the connector is powered. Mating the connector halves causes the self-insulating film to be scraped off, facilitating good electrical contact and upon de-mating, the disrupted film re-forms in milliseconds.

NiobiCon can be used in many forms to include a charging station concept for unmanned underwater vehicles that uses continuously powered open rails on which the vehicle sets down to recharge; a commercial-style USB connector that can transfer data or high-definition video when connected underwater; or a high-power coaxial connector that can pass over 2.75 kW of power underwater.

Because no seals or oil are required, connectors can now be made with lower tolerances, lower mating forces, smaller sizes, lighter weights, higher reliability, and more cost-effectively as compared to current underwater connector technologies. NiobiCon has no limitations with respect to depth, operating temperature, or mating cycles and can be used in saltwater, freshwater, or in other corrosive environments such as urea and fertilizer solutions.

Broad industry applications include aerospace and defense, agriculture, aquaculture, automotive, chemical, oil and gas, mining, and textiles. It addresses performance and safety requirements involving electronics operating at voltages below 75 VDC in wet environments with human contact.

For more information, visit here .


HONORABLE MENTIONS:

DeepDroneID: Remote Drone Identification and Payload Monitoring System

Mohamed Ismail, German Aerospace Center, Braunschweig, Germany

DeepDroneID is for remote identification and payload monitoring of standard and modified drones. It is based on measuring vibration noises, measured by a long-range laser vibrometer, of any drone as a unique signature for remotely verifying registered specifications. The system identifies a drone’s manufacturer and any unauthorized internal modifications to registered specifications such as payload capacity.

For more information, visit here .


Dynamic Obstacle Avoidance for Quadrotors with Event Cameras

Davide Falanga, Kevin Kleber, and Davide Scaramuzza, University of Zurich, Switzerland

Autonomous drones have reaction times of tens of milliseconds. To safely avoid fast-moving objects, drones need low-latency sensors and algorithms. This invention uses event cameras, which are bio-inspired sensors with reaction times of microseconds. The resulting algorithm has an overall latency of only 3.5 milliseconds, which is sufficient for reliable detection and avoidance of fast-moving obstacles.

For more information, visit here .


Fully Multimedia Autonomous System

Scott Kempshall, HyALTA Aeronautics, St. Petersburg, FL

HyDrone™ is a vehicle designed to operate in and easily transition among maritime subsurface, surface, ground, hover, and forward flight domains, allowing a single HyDrone to perform missions that would otherwise require two to four separate vehicles. The Hybrid Advanced Mobility Propulsion System (HyAMPS™) acts as a ducted fan propeller in air or water and engages the ducted shroud to serve as a drive wheel on the ground. Transition between modes is accomplished in less than a second.

For more information, visit here .


Silver Lock Fastener

Harold Hess, Igor Komsitsky, Deeptesh Selvaraj, and Zoltan Szekely, Enduralock LLC, Lenexa, KS

The Silver Lock fastener is a permanently locking, high-vibration-resistant fastener that is reversible and reusable. It employs a mechanical lock that does not rely on friction. With the engagement of a standard 6-point socket, the fastener is free-spinning, so an accurate preload can be applied. It is ideal for critical applications, as it remains locked even with total loss of preload. A key attribute of the fastener is that it reduces the time and cost of maintenance.

For more information, visit here .

See the rest of this year's winners:


Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the December, 2020 issue of Tech Briefs Magazine.

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